Lessons of a Summer Day


So the kids they dance

And shake their bones,

And the politicians throwin' stones,

Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down.

Ashes, ashes, all fall down.

~ "Throwing Stones," by John Perry Barlow, with Bob Weir

Based upon a true incident from childhood, a long, long time ago . . .

To a kid, a summer day is a glorious thing. It is a time without time. School's out, you can play all day with a friend, explore the neighborhood and the woodlots, hang out with other kids, go fishing at the pond, ride your bike a bit further into the unknown world, and get a taste of freedom.

Ah, the bike! Nobody can forget their first two-wheeler, and the summer they began riding it out of sight of their home and parents. For me, it was a Stingray bike, with a banana seat, high-rise handlebars, thick, slick rear tire, and a dark, metallic green paint job. A true thing of beauty, to this young boy. It was also the vehicle that carried me to lessons not well understood at the time, and not fully comprehended until years later.

I was riding up the street towards the corner, where several of the other neighborhood boys were gathered. They were throwing rocks into a tree about 15 feet inside that corner property, on the other side of the fence. I slowed down and stopped when I reached them.

"Whatcha' throwin' rocks at?" I asked.

One of the kids pointed toward the tree and replied, "At a hornet's nest in the tree. We're gonna knock it down."

The nest was hanging from a branch about 20 feet off the ground. Not an easy target for elementary school kids, but not impossible. It was a little tattered from taking at least one hit already, and quite a few hornets were circling around it.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because it's a hornet's nest, dummy. They'll sting somebody."

"Who did they sting?"

"Bobby got stung yesterday."

"But that was different," I answered, "Those were yellow jackets that stung him, and the nest was in a hole in the ground, and it was up at the end of the street. And he was throwing rocks at the hole, trying to block it."

"And if we don't knock down this nest, these hornets will sting somebody."

"But if you just leave them alone, they probably won't."

"Like I said, Bobby got stung yesterday, so we gotta kill this nest before somebody else gets stung. Do you want somebody to get stung?" With that, a stone connected dead-on with the nest, tearing a huge hole in it. More hornets than I could count were buzzing about. Some were arcing out over our heads, toward the street.

"No. But they're not bothering anybody," I replied.

"They got stingers, so somebody will get stung. That's why we gotta do this. What are you, some kinda hornet lover or something? You on their side?"

"No, I'm not on their side, I just don't see why you don't leave them alone."

"Hornet lover!"

I shook my head and mounted the bike. Riding away, I heard the boys cheer as another rock hit, with devastating effect.

For awhile that afternoon, I had no thoughts about the boys and the nest. I was too busy riding my bike, looking to see if any of my friends were out and about, and enjoying what a summer day should be.

Later, heading towards home, I gently braked the bike as I neared the now vacant corner where the boys were earlier. Slowly approaching and scanning the tree, I could see fragments of nest paper hanging from the branch where the nest used to be. On the ground below lay the remains of the nest, torn and broken.

Picking up speed as I started pedaling again, I felt a sharp pain atop my head. Instinctively my hand went up to the spot, and felt a hornet there. I got stung! "Darn it!" I yelled. (I wasn't yet old enough to know how to properly cuss.) It was all I could do to try and get the hornet off my head while keeping control of the bike and trying not to panic. Fortunately, I wasn't allergic to stings. But it still hurt. A lot.

There were a few lessons to be gleaned from that experience upon later reflection. But on that day, I learned one painful, important Truth: the people who get hurt usually aren't the ones throwing the stones.

I don't know how many times, in how many ways, I've seen that lesson repeated. Again, and again.

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Alfred A. Hambidge Jr's picture
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Al Hambidge morbidly watches the Rise of Empire, wondering why so many are admiring the emperor’s new clothes.